I am not sure how many women actually expect to hear the words, “You have Breast Cancer,” but I can promise you that I was not one of them.
On a Friday in an examination room of the Ross Breast Center of Trinity Mother Francis Hospital, with the doctor and two girls that had previously preformed Ultrasounds on my right breast, I heard pretty much those words. I held back my tears.
As a mother, I felt I had to be strong for my children. As a wife, I saw my husband’s pain and, feeling guilty for causing it, didn’t want to cause more. As a daughter, sister and friend, I didn’t want to worry anyone and tried to keep things positive. I wanted to cry.
On Tuesday of the following week while sitting in an office the doctor confirmed his words from Friday, the biopsy results were not what I wanted. The results were positive. Again, I wanted to cry!
I sat with my fingers intertwined with my husbands. The doctor explained the nature of my cancer, stage, treatment options, potential complications, and the long term prognosis.
The doctor then explained to me that a lumpectomy was not an option to me, due to the fact of my previous lumpectomy and the fact that there were three different cancer locations. No radiation would be needed, being as the entire breast would be removed. Again, I wanted to cry.
All sorts of questions ran through the back of my mind. But out of my mouth came, “I want you to remove both breast. Not just one. I want them both gone. I do not want to have to go through this again.”
Although I felt no such obligations to my doctors, I hid tears from them too. When my breast surgeon told me I needed a mastectomy, I didn’t let myself lose it until I made it out of his office and onto the elevator. When my plastic surgeon needed before photographs, requiring me to stand there practically naked while a nurse took pictures, I bit my lip to keep from crying. Time after time during testing, I’d say as little as possible to the technician, struggling to just get through it without making a scene.
Tears reveal truth and, all too often, I wasn’t able to go there. Instead, I’d quietly walk away and find somewhere safe to cry in private. Why did I hide? As much as I wanted to be strong, it wasn’t about that entirely. Mostly, I think I was overwhelmed with emotions and unable to explain them. How could I make others understand all the emotions I was feeling when I couldn’t fully understand them myself?
As discouraging as a Breast Cancer diagnosis is, it’s important to know that medically speaking, there is a lot of really good news about how to treat this diagnosis.
I met a woman who had been diagnosed twice-the first time in her thirties and the second in her early forties. She had forfeited both of her breast, a lot of hair, along with her reproductive system. But she told me, “it did not take away my soul, my spirit, or my sense of humor.” She explained how the first time, she cried. But the second time, she told them to remove anything that could possibly get cancer because she wasn’t doing this a third time.
Tears are an honest reaction to cancer. Over the years, I’ve learned that hiding them only made my struggle harder and denied others the chance to recognize my suffering and be supportive.
In becoming survivors, I believe that we have a tremendous opportunity to help others. There are over three million breast cancer survivors alive today. And every three minutes someone else joins the ranks as a newly diagnosed survivor. If you are one, talk to a long-term survivor, they are supportive and encouraging.
You may be wondering, “what can I do to help myself?” Or, if you are supporting someone with a cancer diagnosis, you may be thinking about how you can best help her. The fact that you are reading and learning about breast cancer is the first step.
A good thing to remember is that sometimes family members, friends, co-workers and other survivors will not know what to say. Your brain needs to be fed with positive messages of hope and resilience. And cry it out…push it aside and move forward. God is the best medicine for your mind and soul. The doctors will take care of your body. Hope and believing keep you strong.